Black Sox keep adapting to Covid curveballs before World Cup

Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson has had to channel his message of "adaptation" early in his side's build-up to this year's softball world championships with Covid again interfering with his plans.

Sorenson last week named a 20-man training squad for the winter in preparation for the November tournament in Auckland having previously trialled 90 softballers from around New Zealand.

The original plan was to go on and watch those athletes at the National Fastpitch Championships and Men's Open Club Nationals after the trials to cut down the pool to 30 players and work from there. However Covid-19 restrictions forced Softball NZ to cancel both events.

"It's been frustrating but we're well practised over the last couple of years in making adjustments on the fly," Sorenson told 1News.

"Unfortunately, it's another situation that is out of our control and while it's not something that we planned for, one of our mantras is to 'control the controllable'.

"It's about adjusting to what's happened and focusing on an extended strengthening and conditioning phase."

The new programme is a Plan C of sorts in the Black Sox's build-up to the World Cup having previously also had a tour of Australia cancelled due to the pandemic as well.

Sorenson said the programme will be carried out regionally with the squad unable to come together currently.

"We had a camp booked for early April but that's been cancelled so at this stage, there's no plan to bring the guys together before June."

In June though, Sorenson said a large portion of the squad will travel to North America to play during the off-season while continuing the winter programme established in New Zealand.

"Our plan is to send them away to North America in the best condition they've ever been in," he said.

"There's an increase in numbers going [to North America] this year which is great because it gives guys a chance to get some at-bats and the pitchers a chance to get some innings under their belts on the mound.

"Whilst you can never catch up the games you've lost, that can certainly bridge the gap with what has been pretty much a write-off of a season domestically."

"Honest" chats part of selection process

Another curveball Sorenson and co have had to take in their stride is the tight international schedule which sees the Under-23s world championships taking place in Argentina in October.

That tournament finishes on October 30, just over three weeks before the world championships in Auckland begin.

With that in mind, Sorenson has opted not to select any players from the Under-23s squad for his 20-strong unit but was planning to involve the squad in his trialling process to help them with their build-up.

"Travelling halfway around the world, having just competed in a world cup, trying to recover from all that whilst we try to ramp things up for our own campaign is not an ideal setting for a high performance environment," Sorenson explained.

Sorenson revealed he did speak to a "handful" of players named in the under-23s that would've made his squad and made them aware of the situation, telling them they effectively had to make a choice as to which squad they wanted to commit to.

"Some took some honest reflection and saw they weren't quite in the frame for a final spot in the men's squad this year and they chose to go down the 23s path and I respect that," Sorenson said.

"I have no doubt that those guys will play for the Black Sox in the future though."

One player who did commit to the senior team though was Hutt Valley infielder Tane Mumu who Sorenson applauded for his confidence.

"That's the sort of attitude we want from our younger athletes."

There were also some other names not featured in Sorenson's 20, including regulars such as Wellington sluggers Jerome Raemaki and Reilly Makea, who Sorenson said had not made the team's fitness standard.

Australia-based players such as two-time world champion pitcher Nik Hayes and 2017 champion catcher Zane van Lieshout were also omitted as they currently can't get to New Zealand to be part of the programme.

However, Sorenson insisted all of them and others could still make the final squad later in the year if they compete well in the rescheduled National Fastpitch Championship in October.

Black Sox 2022 Training Squad

Pita Rona (North Harbour), Alfons Oveinikovas, Ben Enoka, Bradley Bennett, Campbell Enoka, Cole Evans, Connor Peden, Daniel Chapman, Liam Twigden, Rhys Evans, Thomas Enoka (Auckland), Joel Evans, Tane Mumu (Hutt Valley), Jayden Stratford, Josh Pettett, Zac Boyd (Wellington), Ben Watts, Callum Bishop, Jackson Watt, Cam Watts (Canterbury).

NZ U23s Major Sox World Champs Squad

Te Kirika Cooper-Nicola (North Harbour), Seth Gibson, Taine Slaughter, Max Earley, Brock Attewell, Oscar Clark, Huw Davies, Brock Evans, Kaleb Rona, Xavier Herrick, Floyd Nola (Auckland), Adam Woon (Hawke's Bay), Damon Creasy, Tobias Makisi (Wellington), Josh Lubiejewski, Caleb Stewart (Canterbury).